x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Metro takes on real work: commuters

High usage marks the service as a success, but riders are running into crowds, delays and officials issuing fines.

Passengers wave from a passing train on the Dubai Metro network. The Metro completes one month today.
Passengers wave from a passing train on the Dubai Metro network. The Metro completes one month today.

DUBAI // After a full month in operation, there are fewer joyriders and more commuters, and Dubai's Metro is settling down to normal life. As last night's rush hour traffic slowed to a snail's pace on the Dubai-bound side of Sheikh Zayed Road, the Metro rolled into the Financial Centre station and out again, arriving at Burjuman shopping centre 10 minutes later.

Motorists stuck in the heavy traffic below faced at least another 40 minutes' wait to reach the same shopping centre. Despite the glitches and the crowds during the first weekend, the Metro is a success on passenger figures alone, even as only 10 of the 29 stations on the Red Line are operating and no major residential area is properly served. Since Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, swiped his personalised Nol (fare) card nine minutes and nine seconds after 9pm on the ninth day of the ninth month of 2009, more than a million people have taken the Metro, many using it as it was intended - to commute and beat city traffic.

Its first weekend saw delays and swelling crowds, especially at the Mall of the Emirates station, where on Friday, September 11, 20,000 people passed through the station in the first two hours, forcing authorities to activate crowd control measures that have since become the weekend norm. Not only had authorities to deal with large crowds, they later acknowledged that problems with the platform doors would shut down the entire network: when a train pulled into a station and its doors opened, the corresponding platform doors would not open. This caused passengers on the crowded trains to panic and press the emergency buttons. As a result, the entire network would shut down and remain inoperative for more than an hour while the driverless system was reset.

At first, transport officials were educating passengers on the rules - for example, no smoking and no feet on the seats. Etiquette was also a problem: those on the platform would rush the trains before passengers aboard could get off. Within 20 days of the service's launch, officials revealed that 68 fines totalling Dh14,000 (US$3,811) had been issued for violations of Metro rules. ?At least one person was fined for pushing an emergency button.

? Twenty-six people were found travelling in a gold-class seating after paying for silver and were fined Dh200 each. ? Twenty-eight citations were issued for use of the wrong carriage, such as men riding in the women and children's class, also a Dh200 (US$54) fine. ? Seven Dh100 (US$27) fines were handed out to people who were eating or drinking on the trains. ? There were also Dh100 fines for putting feet on seats, smoking and failing to produce fare cards.

Passengers highlighted what they considered design flaws in the stations and trains, and deficiencies in train timetables. The RTA could not be reached in time to comment for this edition. On the first weekend of service, thousands turned up at stations without knowing when the trains would run - the first train on Fridays is at 2pm. Trains run every 10 minutes. "The railings in the carriages are not long enough," said Sarah Moyles, 28, from the UK, who started taking the Metro from Nakheel Harbour and Tower Station to get to work at the Burjuman.

Passengers were seen pressing their palms to the ceiling of the Metro cars to steady themselves during acceleration and braking. The reason: not enough railing for riders to hold on to. Ms Moyles also found the air conditioning too cold but solved the problem by arming herself with a cardigan and picking a seat that was not directly below an air vent. Passengers said there was not enough seating on the station platforms, which have a maximum of eight seats.

Brian Kraman, 35, from the US, blamed long queues at the Mall of the Emirates station on a lack of gates. "There are only three in and three out," he said. Despite the Metro's being billed as a speedy alternative to road congestion in the evenings, the stations are now clogged with commuters waiting to swipe their fare cards to enter and leave stations. On the trains bound for Rashidiya, the most in-demand car is always the lead car, because of the panoramic views across the city.

But a sense of normality is creeping into the Metro experience, and passengers are now more concerned with getting one of the few seats than with catching the new view of their city. eharnan@thenational.ae